What is that Star? Media cultural action in the claiming what they were doing; and everyone had their own reading of the
artwork / performance. However, the mainstream media in general
represented their work as being in a nostalgic mood.
Lam Oi Wan
Let me begin with a story on a local social movement campaign.
It is about the preservation of Star Ferry Pier and Queen’s Pier at
Central, the heart of the City.
Twinkle twinkle little stars
Here are some historical facts about the two Piers:
The Star Ferry is a passenger ferry service operator in Hong
Kong. Its principal routes carry passengers across Victoria Harbour,
between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. The company has been
operating since the late 1880s. It was founded by Parsee Dorabjee
Nowrojee as the Kowloon Ferry Company in 1888 and renamed Star
Ferry in 1898. The name was inspired by his love of Alfred Lord
Tennyson’s poem “Crossing the Bar”, whose first line was Sunset and
evening star, and one clear call for me!
As for the Queen’s Pier, apart from being a public pier it had been a
place for the colonial governor’s inauguration and departure during the
British colonial period. In 1975, when Queen Elizabeth II visited Hong
Kong, she anchored at the Queen’s Pier. In 1997 when Patten, the last
governor, left he also departed from this pier.
The demolition of the two piers was ordered under the land
reclamation plan proposed in 1999 for a new highway, a new shopping
district and a seaside park. Although the land reclamation plan had
gone through public consultation, the public were unaware of the
proposed demolition of the two piers. Even professional architects had
expressed their opposition; some had put forward alternative plans
for preservation but were ignored by the Government.
Since August 2006, a group of public art students (from the Youth
Center) started to do performances and installations outside the Star
Ferry Pier in Central to express their concerns about the demolition
of the pier. The meanings of their works were very diverse: some
expressed a sense of loss; some showed the disappearance of Star Artists’ performance and exhibition at Star Ferry. Photographs courtesy
as a losing of direction; some represented the pier as social history; Choi Tze Kwan.
some were nostalgic; some were in a mourning mood and some
showed their anger. Actually, passers-by didn’t understand exactly
Choi Tsz-kwan, Ger and Tsang Tak-ping were facilitators of the
public art workshop. Their work in Star Ferry Pier was meant to
be an experiment, a course which brought what the students
learned in the classroom into a real public space. The effect of their
public performance and exhibitions was tremendous in terms of
consciousness raising among the students (as they had to think about
their relation with the space). It also generated some public awareness
/ wonderings / feelings as to the meaning of Star Pier in relation
to Hong Kong. Such sentiment was politicized later into a citizen
campaign through the involvement of media activists.
To claim or not to claim, that’s the question
We can say that the artists are the first group of citizens in Hong
Kong to claim the space in the Star Ferry by inscribing their feelings
about and interpretations of the Pier and Clock Tower onto the
disappearing space. However, their claims could not prevent the space
Instead of preserving the actual pier, the government constructed
a Disney-style new pier which mimics the Western style old pier of
the early nineteenth century, and claimed that the government had
preserved Hong Kong people’s collective memories: they had scanned
and saved the old Star Ferry pier with three dimensional digital
techniques into virtual computer files! The government emphasized
that the reclamation and road construction plan had been approved
There were bits and pieces of reports and commentaries about
the demolition of Star Ferry Pier since June 2006 at <inmediahk.net>.01
The first commentary was written by Leung Po, an artist and a core
editorial member of inmediahk.net; the article complained about the
malady of the city: an independent intellectual bookstore had closed
down and Star Ferry Pier was to be demolished.
By the end of November, the demolition had started. The
government expressed its “condolences” regarding the historical
building but insisted that the development still needed to carry
on. From December onward, there were several calls for public
participation to protest the demolition: December 3rd, a rally to
Government offices; December 5th, a human chain outside the
Artists’ performance and exhibition at Star Ferry.
Photograph courtesy Choi Tze Kwan.
Hoidick, another core member of inmediahk.net, published a
critical report on the December 5th action expressing doubts on the
nostalgic mood and “photo-shooting” gestures of protest. It stirred
up some very important discussion among the activists. A major
organizer of the public arts performance, Ger, said: I don’t know what it takes to have an ‘organized’ front based
on degrees of solidarity. I can only see that we are more
At this stage, I think we should stop executing our wrong critical—but perhaps not to the point where we understand
representation towards the Star Ferry action, stop this how our bodies relate to social space, and can respond to it
action that makes the people feel annoyed, stop the funeral, revealingly. My hunch is that activism requires that.
stop the ceremony......otherwise, we will lose the support of
the public in future struggles concerning the city. There is a lot to learn.
Our action actually focuses on the city’s planning, a On December 11th Hoidick picked up breaking news (released by
fight for our participation in the city in the cultural and a citizens’ group) about the Secretary for Home Affairs’ lie on the
historical context, not simply as common memory, not as legislative council about a consultation report that the demolition
mere personal emotions. It is because all those common had been supported by the Antiquities and Monuments consultation
memories and emotions are not convincing enough to ask committee in 1999. The fact was quite the reverse.
for the support from the public. Memory and nostalgia don’t
mean a thing in Hong Kong. Our aims are actually far more On December 12th there was another call (posted in the
important and meaningful than this. commentary of Hoidick’s report) for a human chain action. The action
turned into an occupation of the construction site by a few activists
The representation of our action as a mourning ceremony (many are citizen reporters in inmediahk.net) for thirty-six hours, and
is totally wrong. Coz once you finished the funeral, the “thing” a series of spontaneous actions, such as a sit-in protest outside a
must die! In these last couple of days I was thinking about key government official’s home late at night, etc. The campaign had
the reason people do not support us. I found that when the developed into a small political crisis. The activists’ demand was simple,
public finished all that ceremony (taking photos, tears, travel stop demolition, which the government perceived as a challenge to
with the last ship....etc.), they wouldn’t keep it alive in order the administrative body’s governing power. Instead of suspending the
to make their ceremony reasonable! They would just give it construction, the government speeded up the construction and cut
up. the Clock Tower (the symbol of the pier) into half on December 16th.
Activists reacted with a forty-nine hour hunger strike and the protest
That’s how people treat the sort of memory that we are activities moved to Queen’s Pier
emphasizing in this action. Of course, the mass media are .
responsible at this point too. Coz they reported the whole In December there were more than a hundred reports,
thing as a good memory that we have to keep (something commentaries and announcements regarding the two piers at
easily solved by taking a photo and scanning it). From the inmediahk.net. The discussions covered movement strategies,
very first, we failed to keep the emphasis on our concerns discourses, reports, personal reflections, debates, etc.
for the city, to keep our own aim. We have lost already.
Media activism and cultural activism
Another artist, Yeung Yang, who participated in the December 5th
The government, mainstream media, politicians, and even
organizers and activists who have been involved since July 2006,
didn’t know what exactly had happened: why would a fading subject be
Organized social action / movement (not that I know too
revived and develop this momentum all of a sudden?
much / have much experience of that) must be viewed
in relation / tension / contradiction with personal
Clichéd analysis said that it was the power of the internet network,
transformation. A person is always in public, and what one
as some participants explained that they went out to strike because
does, can do, will actually be done in public, related to her/
of what they read in inmediahk.net. They called this post-modern flash
his personal transformative power. Everyone has his/her
mob aggregation. Some pointed out that a new activism has emerged
own rhythm forachieving that, and allowing it to happen
which rejects the politics of public relations.
throughout their whole life time. No one can be, should be,
forced, because this itself is the most inhumane thing to do.
To some extent, the rejection of the politics of public relations is a save this space?” If there were a single and overarching script at the
valid description, as independent media’s founding principle is to reject very beginning, I don’t think people would come together for such a
manipulation by the government, business and political parties. It fails prolonged fight.
to capture the delicate rationality of media activism, a belief that
reporting is a transformative power for both the individual and the
society. Through engaged / subjective / analytical / emotional writing
and reporting, an individual makes his / her own claim for the event,
and becomes part of an incident. In other words, the media activist
believes in what s/he writes, takes responsibility and jumps into the
story of his / her own construction. They are not writing for the past
alone, but also for the future.
Since the anti-WTO demonstration in Hong Kong in December
2005, there have been some discussions, and tensions felt, about
the balance between the writing of a story or script (reporting) and
action. Quite often, when a media activist jumps into the story, s/he
couldn’t jump out and write the script. In the Star Ferry Pier campaign,
it has been proven that script-writing is a most significant battlefield
as the government has been very active in defining the campaign
with its public relations machine. It tried to confuse the public with
the concepts of “relocation” and “collective memories” to dilute the
campaign’s political significance.
Reviewing the process, in fact, the radicalization of the campaign
can be seen to have started with Hoidick’s few reports in early
December, first questioning the representation of the campaign
in a nostalgic mood, then redirecting the campaign to target the
government officials and the decision-making process. Words /
script generated from the event came before action. On the next day,
participants were determined to stop the construction and supporters
outside the construction site had a midnight hunt chasing after a
major government official. The representation of the event (script), via
action, pushes the flow / development of the event.
While media activists’ reports are discursive representations,
cultural activists’ works are more symbolic. Meaning is generated
from the artistic acts in interaction with the space. And the readings
of the artwork are diverse. The diversity of meanings, feelings,
symbolisms that the public arts created had been extremely
successful in aggregating different people together: some participants
joined in because of their memories, some wanted to protect the
harbor, some determined to claim the space in the central district,
some protested against the developmental thirst, etc. In evaluating
the campaign, Tsang Tak-ping also said that the result was beyond
his expectation. The public art project has radicalized the students. Artists’ performance and exhibition at Star Ferry. Photograph
At first, the students were just doing what they wanted in that space. courtesy Choi Tze Kwan.
Once the connection was made, they started to ask, “What can I do to
The media activists’ reports entered the scene later as an
articulating power able to draw people with diverse interests together
with a clearer agenda.
People are looking for connections. Arts and media are connecting
devices. Both are making claim on space and interpretations of event.
The former is at the symbolic level, the latter in the discursive field.
How to bring together the forces of the art and media activists would
be a most important and experimental agenda for the future.
Copyright for the Work remains with the Writer under Creative Commons
[attributive and non-commerical] license.
Inmediahk.net is an online platform found in 2004 by a diverse group of people
in Hong Kong, including activists, artists, former journalists, academics and
students. It promotes citizen journalism as a practice of participatory democracy.
Up till now, the website has more than 3,000 registered users, 500 of whom are
contributors. The website has approximately 4,000 plus visitors per day, and about
60,000 to 80,000 per month. About 80% of visitors come to the site every week.
It is funded by Hong Kong In-Media which gives support to independent media
movements, media research and education.
Hong Kong In-Media established another website, interlocals.net, in 2006. It
is designed to bridge the information gap among local independent media in
different places, especially non-English speaking countries, through translation
in order to counter global news agencies’ representation and mediation of non-